Age for developing an eating disorder falls

The age at which people start developing an eating disorder has fallen in recent years. Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, has found that the average age of onset of anorexia nervosa has dropped from 15-24 to 14-19.

Training and development manager with Bodywhys, Harriet Parsons, said an eating disorder could totally obliterate a person’s life.

“Early intervention is so important so that the eating disorder does not affect a person’s ability to progress through school, college and onto a job,” said Ms Parsons.

An eating disorder is not just about food and weight, but also a person’s sense of who they are.

Disordered eating behaviours include self-starvation by fasting and food restriction; purging by self-induced vomiting, over-exercising or laxative abuse and bingeing by consuming quantities of food beyond what the body needs to satisfy hunger.

Bodywhys also found that email support requests increased by 57% last year, but online support is not just being used by people to make contact for the first time.

“Around half of the people contacting us by email are using it as a form of ongoing support, whether or not they are in treatment,” said Ms Parsons. Men now account for one in 10 of those who attended a face-to-face eating disorder support group meeting, a trend that has emerged in recent years.

“Again, looking at male attendance at a support group, it’s clear that eating disorders are not unique to females,” said Ms Parsons.

It also emerged that over a third (34%) of callers to the Bodywhys helpline (locall 1890 200 444) last year had experienced an eating disorder for over a decade.

“Since 2014 we have noticed that there is a huge percentage of people who have an eating disorder for 10 years. It is a continuing trend,” said Ms Parsons.

Today is the start of Eating Disorders Week and Bodywhys wants people with an eating disorder to know that there are lots of recovery options.

“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treatment. Different things will work for different people. It is really about the person finding out what will work for them,” said Ms Parsons.

“We know many people have been living with an eating disorder for a long time, but recovery is possible. We want to reach people, to ensure they receive our message. We can help people to tease out what their next step might be, or people can just tell us where they are at the moment,” sh said.

Bodywhys also supports families of individuals with an eating disorder and has started holding four-week courses for families.

“We are trying to give families the skills and understanding to both support themselves and the person with the eating disorder,” she said. The Department of Health and Children estimates that 200,000 people are affected by eating disorders. n

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